You’d think people would be OK with miracles and wonders, but that’s not always the case.
We learned that much in the gospel accounts we’ve been hearing at Mass lately. The evangelist Mark recounts several of Jesus’ mighty deeds as he began his public ministry in Galilee: How he healed a man with a withered hand; and cured a paralytic lowered down through the roof by four friends.
Those weren’t isolated cases, Mark assures us: ‘He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon him to touch him.’ Interestingly, though, the miracles weren’t always met with gratitude. Rather, they stirred up anger and skepticism in Jesus’ opponents…and even caused those closest to him to fear for his sanity: ‘When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.””
We are not always comfortable with wonders, are we?
In Gift in the Ruins, Rosemary Haughton offers this reflection regarding the phenomenon:
[T]he idea that events unexplainable by the usual disciplines can happen is too disturbing to be accepted because it upsets the sense that the world is safe because it is explainable… Miracles of all kinds knock away some of our sense of being in control, they confront us with the limits of our understanding.
Yet even science concedes that wonders are part of reality; that there are things about the world that cannot be explained by what we consider incontrovertible scientific truths. I thought about that the other day when I read a passage in Jon Gertner’s The Idea Factory about the earliest insights into quantum mechanics. Gertner writes,
Some years later, the physicist Richard Feynman would elegantly explain that “it was discovered that things on a small scale behave nothing like things on a large scale.” In the quantum world, for instance, you could no longer say that a particle has a certain location or speed…To describe the actions of electrons or nuclei at the center of atoms…[one] had to forsake the study and established laws of Newtonian physics for an airy realm of imagination.
Given the current bias towards science and scientific explanations, it’s hardly surprising that a miracle-worker like Jesus sometimes has trouble capturing the modern imagination. People are likely to look at you a little cross-ways if you confess Christ…if you profess belief in the power of the risen Lord.
That sort of thing just doesn’t sit well with today’s consciousness. We want proofs, logical solutions. And we are (often perhaps inordinately) confident in our ability to find them.
But the more I experience of life, the more I come to realize that wonder is at the heart of things. We lose something important when we shrug off miracles…or disregard the notion that there may be something beyond what our senses (or rational methods of inquiry) can tell us.
There’s a character—the Elder Zosima—in Dostoevsky’s classic novel The Brothers Karamazov who provides an essential insight into the human need for wonder:
Much on earth is concealed from us, but in place of it we have been granted a secret, mysterious sense of our living bond with the other world, with the higher heavenly world, and the roots of our thoughts and feelings are not here, but in other worlds…God took seeds from other worlds and sowed them on this earth, and raised up his garden; and everything that could sprout, sprouted, but it lives and grows only through its sense of being in touch with other mysterious worlds; if this sense is weakened or destroyed in you, that which has grown up in you dies. Then you become indifferent to life, and even come to hate it.
It’s an image worth pondering: Perhaps we have been given a Savior who performs mighty deeds—then and now—in order to keep these seeds alive in us. When we encounter miracles and wonders, they are like a love letter from God, inviting us to continue the journey toward our true home.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.